Walla Walla School District’s newest school is open and ready for business.
Walla Walla Online is is a new, K-12 school created for students who are not yet ready to return to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Superintendent Wade Smith says the online learning program has two target audiences.
“First and foremost, we are addressing those family circumstances where health and safety reasons may require a student to continue their education from home via distance learning,” Smith said.
“For example, maybe a student has a serious, underlying health condition where by bringing them back to the school campus might put that student’s safety at risk … We need to support that student and provide them with a thorough and comprehensive education at home.”
Smith said this also includes students who may be healthy, but have family members with health issues.
The other target audience is students who will better benefit from an online experience regardless of whether a pandemic exists. This is why, Smith said, the online school will continue even after the pandemic is over.
“Although I deeply value the relationships and face-to-face interactions that a public education provides, we also have to realize that we are not a one-size-fits-all program,” Smith said.
The program certainly won’t be for everyone, though, he said.
For the younger students, parental support will be a must.
“Elementary parents are going to have to ensure that there is an adult presence at home to support their young learner,” Smith said. “That is going to be critical for elementary success.”
Older students, Smith said, will need to be self-motivated to work through the courses.
The online program will include all required classes for every grade offered. It will also provide several choices for electives.
In most cases, students who opt into the online program will not have the chance to take any classes in person. However, there are some exceptions.
Some classes that aren’t offered online — such as band, choir, orchestra, career and technical courses or programs at the Southeast Area Technical Skills Center, or SEATech — may be available for online students to take in person.
Athletics, however, is a different story.
“The beauty of this program is it also permits students to participate in athletics, clubs and activities,” Smith said. “Whether they are a student of Walla Walla Online or Walla Walla High School, they will have the opportunity to participate in sports because they are still students of Walla Walla Public Schools.”
Each student in the program will be assigned a learning coach. Learning coaches are all current district teachers. Smith said students will have plenty of chances to meet face-to-face with their learning coach and are encouraged to do so.
Former Garrison Middle School Assistant Principal Carina Stillman leads Walla Walla Online as its director. She has been reassigned to Walla Walla Online so she can focus on the new program full time.
“She has been working around the clock as we secure all of our online education systems,” Smith said. “We anticipate getting somewhere between 200 and 500 students this fall … So we really need dedicated leadership.”
The school district is finalizing deals with educational content providers for the program.